5 soldiers and veterans told us why they pledged to protect a young, scared Muslim girl.

For the past two weeks, veterans and active military men and women from around the world have been posting photos of themselves on social media with the hashtag #iwillprotectyou.

The campaign, which began with a single Facebook post from Army veteran Kerri Peek, was launched in support of Sofia Yassini, an 8-year-old Muslim-American girl from Texas, who — after watching Donald Trump on TV call for banning Muslims from entering the U.S. — got scared that the military was going to come and kick her and her family out of the country.


"It was the first time that it really drove home to me that we’re in a dangerous place right now," Sofia's mother Melissa Yassini — who works with the Islamic Association of North Texas — told Upworthy.

Since Peek's hashtag went viral, hundreds of veterans and active duty military members have contacted the Yassinis to express their support, according to Melissa.

Upworthy contacted five of them and asked them why they chose to reach out to Sofia.

Here's what they told us, in their own words (many of those who are currently serving noted that they are speaking for themselves only, and not the U.S. military):

Sgt. Amanda Hils

"The idea that a child would be scared in our own [country], of our own military, is not something I'm comfortable with," Hils told Upworthy.


Hils, who was deployed in Afghanistan in 2011-12, recalled feeling heartbroken that any American child would view her fellow service members as a threat. While many veterans and active military men and women wrote messages, Hils felt it was important to show Sofia what it looks like to have a woman in uniform looking out for her.

"If she's able to put faces to that sentiment, I think that's great."

Above all else, she believes speaking out was the right — and necessary — thing to do, and that the man in charge would agree.

"At the very least, I'm echoing the sentiments of our commander-in-chief. He's made it very clear: Muslims are not our enemy."

Sherman Hardy

"The more fear grows, and the stronger it gets, the easier it is to overshadow everything," Hardy, an Air Force veteran who served as a military policeman in Wyoming and Korea, told Upworthy.


According to Hardy, growing up African-American left him all-too-familiar with how harmful — and deeply, emotionally wounding — some stereotypes can be and how it can often be difficult not to carry them through life. The notion that Muslims are dangerous — and that non-Muslims should fear them — hits Hardy the same way.

"Once you're labeled something, you begin to think, 'OK, is there any truth to this?' You have to question yourself, and be stronger than that, and know, 'OK, that's not who I am.'"

That's why, for Hardy, the decision to support Sofia and her mom is not just an obligation that comes along with having served.

"I think it's an American duty," he said.

Lt. Cmdr. Montel Williams (retired)

"Were anyone to try to force your daughter, an American citizen, to leave this country on the basis of her faith, my oath would require me to act," the talk show host wrote on Facebook.

Unbeknownst to many who watch him on TV, Williams served 22 years between the Marines and the Navy — retiring with the rank of lieutenant commander — and remains an active, vocal supporter of veterans' causes to this day.

Yes, that's Montel Williams. Photo via Montel Williams/Facebook., used with permission.

"Members of the military aren't given a choice who they protect, of what faith, what race, what sexual orientation, whatever," Jonathan Franks, a spokesperson for Williams told Upworthy.

According to Franks, Williams is heavily involved with a campaign to secure the release of Amir Hekmati — an American citizen currently being held in Iran — and believes anti-Muslim bigotry from Donald Trump and others shows the kind of distrust that makes progress on such issues difficult.

"We're not going to solve a whole lot of problems by alienating people in the Muslim community," Franks said.

Patrick Brandt

"No one will be coming for you, so long as I breathe," Brandt, a former paratrooper who served two tours in Iraq, wrote on Facebook.


Photo by Patrick Brandt/Facebook, used with permission.

In addition to showing Sofia support, Brandt was moved to post #iwillprotectyou to help rebuke the Islamophobic sentiments that he believes are distressingly common among some of his fellow veterans.

"I'm not saying all vets are represented in that group, maybe not even most of them," Brandt told Upworthy, "But [that] crowd is certainly the loudest on social media it seems to me."

The message Brandt hopes to send his comrades-in-arms?

"I want them to know that I see the Islamophobic movements that are happening in our nation are in direct conflict with the ideals of USA," Brandt told Upworthy. "Not only will I physically defend my brothers and sisters if it comes down to that, but I will proactively step up and be a voice of compassion to my peers."

Lt. Cristina Trecate

"When you're eight years old, that shouldn't be something you're scared about," Trecate told Upworthy. "You should probably be scared about when your crayon breaks, what color you're going to use next, not being kicked out of your home."


Trecate enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard at 19 and spent her early service as a truck driver before heading to college and receiving an officer's commission. Now a field artillery officer in the Pennsylvania National Guard, she emphasized that her duty is to protect all Americans.

"I would just want her to know that she shouldn't be afraid," Trecate said. "She can feel safe at night, knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of people, clearly, who are willing to protect her and be there for her and defend her."

More than anything, Trecate wants Sofia to know that she'll never be kicked out of her home, no matter what.

"None of us are going to let that happen."

Melissa told Upworthy she feels honored a campaign her daughter inspired has touched so many people, and she has made it a point to respond to as many as she can.

"I'm always a believer that love wins over evil and hate, and it does every time," Melissa said.

For Melissa, the best evidence is that Sofia has gone back to being a normal 8-year-old girl.

"One day she just said, 'Mommy, I'm not worried anymore,'" Melissa said.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

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Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

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Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

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Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.